Each year, more than 30,000 Americans die in gun suicides,
homicides, and unintentional shootings as a result of the ready availability,
and accessibility, of specific classes of firearms. Gun violence is
more than a crime issue; it is a broad-based public health crisis of
which crime is merely the most recognized aspect.
The Violence Policy Center (VPC), a national tax-exempt
501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Washington, DC, works to
stop this annual toll of death and injury through research, advocacy,
education, and collaboration. Firearms are the only consumer product
not regulated by a federal agency for health and safety. This unique
exemption has been exploited by the gun industry as it has moved to
embrace increased lethality as the foundation of its design, manufacturing,
and marketing efforts in the wake of the long-term decline in household
gun ownership. The VPC believes that the answer to reducing gun violence
lies in applying the decades-long lessons of consumer product safety
regulation and injury prevention to the gun industry and its products.
This approach is detailed in our landmark 1994 publication Cease
Fire: A Comprehensive Strategy to Reduce Firearms Violence.
The VPC has a long and proven record of policy successes
on the federal, state, and local levels, leading the National Rifle
Association to acknowledge us as "the most effective...anti-gun rabble
rouser in Washington."
Public policy advances that have emerged as the result
of the work of the Violence Policy Center include:
- In 1992 the VPC released More
Gun Dealers Than Gas Stations, a study of abuses by Federal
Firearms License (FFL) holders. The study revealed that 80 percent
of FFL holders did not operate storefront businesses, but sold guns
from houses and offices. Many of the study's recommendations were
adopted by the Clinton Administration and Congress at the federal
level and by many states and municipalities, resulting in a dramatic
reduction in the number of gun dealers—from more than 250,000 in
1992 to less than 55,000 today.
- In 1993 the VPC released Putting
Guns Back into Criminals' Hands, which exposed a four-million-dollar-a-year
federal program that helped rearm thousands of convicted, often
violent, felons at taxpayer expense. As a result of the study the
program was defunded and remains defunded to this day.
- In 1994 the VPC released its groundbreaking study Cease
Fire: A Comprehensive Strategy to Reduce Firearms Violence.
Cease Fire introduced a comprehensive, effective approach
to regulating firearms in a manner similar to that currently applied
to other inherently dangerous consumer products. This product safety
approach has been implemented in both Massachusetts and California.
- In 1995, following the Oklahoma City bombing, the VPC focused
public and press attention on the anti-government efforts of the
National Rifle Association—including the now-infamous "jack-booted
government thugs" direct-mail letter. The widespread press coverage
the VPC focused on the extremist rhetoric
and agenda of the NRA helped stop the organization’s efforts to
repeal the 1994 federal assault weapons ban.
- In 1996 the VPC released Gun
Shows in America: Tupperware® Parties for Criminals, the
first study to identify the myriad of problems associated with gun
shows. Following the 1999 Columbine massacre, the VPC helped draft
legislation that became the centerpiece of Congressional debate
on efforts to close what has now become known as the "gun show
- In 1996 the VPC was the lead group in building a coalition of
more than 35 domestic violence, women's advocacy, religious, and
health policy organizations in support of the "Domestic Violence
Offender Gun Ban." The law expands the list of persons prohibited
from possessing firearms to include those convicted of misdemeanor
domestic violence offenses. To educate the public and policymakers
about the unique role firearms play in domestic violence, each year
the VPC releases When Men Murder Women,
which details state-by-state the circumstances of all reported homicides
of women by men in single victim-single offender incidents. Released
during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the studies are used by
state and local activists to educate the public on the realities
of domestic violence, as well as effective solutions to protect
women and children from batterers.
- In 1997 the VPC released Joe
Camel with Feathers: How the NRA with Gun and Tobacco Industry Dollars
Uses its Eddie Eagle Program to Market Guns to Kids. This
VPC report documents the NRA's aggressive marketing to youth, which
follows a trail blazed by the tobacco industry. The study is one
of numerous VPC reports focusing on the marketing of guns to children
by the gun lobby and the firearms industry, as well as the effects
of gun violence on children and youth.
- In 1999 The New Press published the VPC's first book, Making
a Killing: The Business of Guns in America. Making A
Killing is a first-of-its-kind exposé, revealing how the firearms
industry has used increased lethality in an attempt to resuscitate
stagnant gun markets.
- In 2001 the VPC released Poisonous
Pastime, a first-time look at the lead threat posed to children
and the environment by indoor and outdoor shooting ranges.
- In 2001 the VPC released Voting
from the Rooftops: How the Gun Industry Armed Osama bin Laden, Other
Foreign and Domestic Terrorists, and Common Criminals With 50 Caliber
Sniper Rifles. The study documented for the first time the
burgeoning sales of 50 caliber sniper rifles—military bred weapons
that can down helicopters and penetrate armor plating, yet are easier
to purchase than a standard handgun. In a New York Times
exclusive, the VPC study revealed that the Al Qaeda network had
purchased at least 25 of the weapons in the United States. Since
then, the VPC has continued its focus on the unique public safety
and national security threats posed by 50 caliber sniper rifles
as detailed in our studies on the topic, including: Sitting
Ducks: The Threat to the Chemical and Refinery Industry From 50
Caliber Sniper Rifles; "Just
Like Bird Hunting"— The Threat to Civil Aviation From 50 Caliber
Sniper Rifles; and, Clear
and Present Danger: National Security Experts Warn About the Danger
of Unrestricted Sales of 50 Caliber Anti-Armor Sniper Rifles to
- In 2001 The New Press published the VPC's second book, Every
Handgun is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns.
The first-of-its-kind book details the unique price Americans pay
for easy handgun availability and was a key tool used by both Washington,
DC, and Chicago, IL, in the legal defense of their handgun bans.
- In 2002 a new law was implemented in California requiring that
all new handguns sold in the state include child safety devices
that meet minimum safety standards. The VPC worked closely with
California advocates to pass and implement this first-in-the-nation
law which ensured that child safety devices would be effective in
protecting children from unintentional gunshot wounds.
- In 2003 the VPC released "Officer
Down"—Assault Weapons and the War on Law Enforcement, which
analyzed FBI data revealing that one in five law enforcement officers
slain in the line of duty was killed with an assault weapon. The
study was widely cited by the news media and was a key tool for
advocates working to renew and improve the federal assault weapons
ban. Advocates in Columbus, Ohio, used the study to help secure
passage of a citywide assault weapons ban in 2005.
- In 2005, as the result of the VPC's work revealing the threat
posed by 50 caliber sniper rifles, California became the first state
in the nation to ban these military weapons. That same year, the
VPC's work detailing the threat of 50 calibers was featured on 60
Minutes, Dateline NBC, and other leading news magazine
- In 2006, as the result of the findings of the 2004 Violence Policy
Center study Vest Buster: The .500
Smith & Wesson Magnum—The Gun Industry's Latest Challenge to Law
Enforcement Body Armor, which warned of the threat posed
to law enforcement officers by the .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum handgun
round, a new bullet-resistant vest capable of defeating the .500
Smith & Wesson Magnum round was developed to protect law enforcement.
The vest has been certified by the National Institute of Justice
(NIJ) as meeting its Level IIIA soft body armor standards.
- In 2007 the VPC released the first edition of Black
Homicide Victimization in the United States, which analyzes
black homicide victimization rates in the 50 states, illustrating
the disproportionate effect gun homicide has on blacks in the United
States. Now an annual report, the publication is a key public education
and policy tool for local community organizations and policymakers.
- In 2008 the VPC released American
Roulette: Murder-Suicide in the United States. The third
edition of a VPC study first issued in 2002, the publication remains
the largest survey of murder-suicide in the United States ever conducted.
The study reveals that more than 10 murder-suicides occur in the
United States each week and is used by policymakers, professionals,
and the news media across the nation.
- In 2009 the VPC released Law
Enforcement and Private Citizens Killed by Concealed Handgun Permit
Holders, which for the first time tallied non-self defense
killings by concealed handgun permit holders. Released during Congressional
debate over legislation that would have created a de facto
national concealed carry system, its findings were repeatedly cited
by bill opponents and on newspaper editorial pages in a successful
effort to defeat the measure. That same year, the VPC launched its
Concealed Carry Killers
on-line resource, which continues to tally non-self defense killings
involving persons legally allowed to carry concealed handguns and
is updated monthly. The findings of Concealed Carry Killers
have been used by gun violence prevention advocates across the nation
to help stop efforts to enact or expand lax concealed weapons laws.
- In 2009 the VPC released two studies—Iron
River: Gun Violence and Illegal Firearms Trafficking on the U.S.-Mexico
Border and Indicted:
Types of Firearms and Methods of Gun Trafficking from the United
States to Mexico as Revealed in U.S. Court Documents—focusing
on the role played by America’s lax gun laws and the easy availability
of military-style weaponry on the U.S. civilian gun market in helping
feed cartel violence in Mexico.
- In 2010 the VPC released Drive-By
America, the only state-by-state national analysis of drive-by
shootings, their circumstances, and their victims.
- In 2011 the VPC released A
Shrinking Minority: The Continuing Decline of Gun Ownership in America,
which analyzes independent General Social Survey data to reveal
that household gun ownership is at its lowest level since the 1970s.
The analysis reveals that less than a third of American households
have a gun and that contrary to assertions by the gun lobby and
gun industry that female personal gun ownership has increased, gun
ownership by women remains relatively rare and unchanged.
- In 2011 the VPC released Blood
Money: How the Gun Industry Bankrolls the NRA which for
the first time details how the National Rifle Association receives
millions of dollars from the gun industry through an organized “Corporate
Partners” program, ending once and for all the NRA’s false claim—stated
on its website—that it “is not affiliated with any firearm or ammunition
manufacturers or with any businesses that deal in guns and ammunition.”
- In 2011 the VPC released Lost
Youth: A County-by-County Analysis of 2009 California Homicide Victims
Ages 10 to 24 which uses the most recent data available
to rank California counties by their homicide rates for youth and
young adults. By comparing county by county the homicide rates for
youth and young adults, the study shows the continuing, urgent need
for tailored, localized approaches to reducing youth homicide that
integrate prevention and intervention while engaging local leaders
and community stakeholders.
The Violence Policy Center also regularly submits and
joins amicus curiae briefs in a variety of state and federal
cases impacting gun laws. Most recently, the VPC joined with other gun
violence prevention advocates in the successful defense of a California
county ordinance that bans gun shows on county property.